Friday, February 05, 2016

Paris by Edward Rutherford

I love Edward Rutherford's sagas of a place, usually a city, that span centuries and follow several families through time and generations as their fortunes rise and fall.  Paris was different from the others that I've read (i.e., New York, London, Sarum, etc) in that he didn't tell his story strictly chronologically, which made it a bit hard to follow at times, but overall I enjoyed learning about Paris through the stories of its citizens, landmarks, and geography.

The main story line begins with the building of the Eiffel Tower in the 1880's and ends with the liberation of Paris at the end of WWII.  I loved reading about Thomas Gascon, who talks Eiffel into hiring him as a laborer, and who witnesses the funeral of Victor Hugo, and ends up igniting the Resistance in Paris.  I also enjoyed reading about his devil of a handsome, charming brother, Luc, whose amoral behavior burdens Thomas.

Other wonderful characters include those of the bourgeois Blanchard family, the aristocratic de Cynges, and the radical Le Sourds.  I absolutely loved Eloise Blanchard, who supported the early Impressionist artists, and her niece Marie who reinvents herself a few times, developing a boutique department store in Paris and then retiring to the Loire Valley during WWII and helping the Resistance in her own marvelous way.  And then there's Louise, a bastard child who discovers her parentage on her way to becoming Madam of notorious brothel.  All good stuff, right?

Personally I think the book would have been stronger if Rutherford had kept to a linear arc rather than jumping around, but given the number of books that he's done in that way, perhaps he felt like experimenting a bit with Paris.

The best parts of the book were when he returned to the main story thread--from the 1880s to the 1940s.  I didn't feel like the parts about the French Revolution or the Middle Ages added that much to my enjoyment of the story.  Maybe too, though, I wanted to read more about the French Resistance during WWII, having just finished All the Light We Cannot See.

Now, I would love to see Rutherford tackle Rome.  I would read that novel for sure!

Monday, February 01, 2016

Mailbox Monday

Time to update on what's been arriving for my reading pleasure...

Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came in their mailbox during the last week. Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists. Visit the Mailbox Monday site to see what other bloggers are excited about.

Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Pamela Sue Hill (Editor) - I finally ordered and received a copy of this source material for the Little House novels, and started it immediately.  It's amazing to see the stories I've loved all my life in their original form.

Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter - I read a few reviews and since it's set mostly just north of Cinque Terre in Italy, how could I resist?

Thomas Murphy, by Richard Rosenblatt - Ireland, New York, memory, family

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain - basically, I am quiet hear me roar.  Listening to it in the car, and loving every minute that validates my penchant to think before I speak...most of the time :)

I've started the year off reading a bunch of books at once, but they're all wonderful and since it's snowing again here in Colorado, what better way to while away the winter than getting some great reading done?

Hope you have some wonderful books on your reading table too!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, published in 2014, was last year's high-buzz book.  I seemed to see it reviewed everywhere and my turn for the audiobook finally came up at the library at the end of December after being on the wait list for at least 8 months.

It's one of those books that has two main characters and the narrative alternates between telling their respective stories.  This adds time changing, forward and backward, to the mix, making it a bit disjointed at times, but ultimately it works as the stories find their focus in a common point in time.

In a nutshell, the book tells the story of Marie-Laure, a blind French teenager who flees Nazi-occupied Paris during WWII with her father to the coastal town of Sant-Malo, and Werner Pfenick, a German radio whiz-kid who is recruited into the Nazi Youth organization and specializes in tracking down illegal radio transmitters within the French resistance.

I found many things to like about this book.  I liked the sight and color imagery and themes, the various puzzles (engineering and otherwise) that both Werner and Marie-Laure learn to solve, and the natural science elements including the connection to Jules Verne's 20 Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

On the downside, I didn't care for the disjointed narrative--I was fine with the two stories being told alternately but the jumping around in time was a bit irritating.  I guess I just like my stories more linear.

Finally, most of my knowledge of WWII is from the Anglo-American perspective, so it was fascinating to read the German and French perspectives.   I'm now ready to dive into The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, and I would love to learn more about the French resistance.

And, I decided to read 20 Thousand Leagues Under the Sea as part of my Back to the Classics challenge for that tricky Sci Fi category.

I love it when one book leads to others.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Kicking off the New Year...

Welcome to 2016!  Now that the holidays are officially over, it's time to enjoy winter.  I know that sounds crazy, but I like winter sports.  My son and older daughter and I went skating last week at our town's outdoor rink and had a blast.  My son left this morning for New York, heading back to college, and my two daughters leave for California this Thursday, driving the older one back to resume life and work in San Francisco.  They're all (fingers crossed) planning on spending the summer in Colorado, but meanwhile, I'm going to enjoy the snow and freezing temps and start an indoor herb garden.

Now on to books...

I love mysteries but haven't read many lately, so one of my mini, informal challenges of the year is to read from my TBR mystery shelf (bottom of the bookcase, mostly filled with next in series by many different authors).

I finished the year by reading the second in Louise Penny's series about Three Pines, Quebec, a small village near Montreal, Fatal Grace.  It was absolutely wonderful and fit in nicely with the Christmas reading I did in December.  There really are very few books with curling at the center, and having grown up in Colorado Springs, spending most of my time at the Broadmoor World Arena, I'm actually familiar with the sport!  Now, I'm already itching to get a copy of her third in the series.

I then went straight to Jacqueline Winspear's Birds of a Feather, which is the second in her Maisie Dobbs mystery series, set between WWI and WWII.  Also fabulous and so interesting.  Really loving Maisie as a private detective--her backstory is poignant and her approach to solving crimes and to finding her way in this crazy world is admirable.  I now find myself putting my right hand on my solar plexus and my left hand on my heart to calm myself when stressed.  I love her combo of intuition and common sense and her ongoing relationship with her mentor.

Late last week I had some outpatient medical stuff to deal with and needed a very distracting book to take my mind off of things, so I chose Anne Lamott's Operating Instructions, which is a journal of the first year of her son's life.  I expected to give this 5 stars as I loved the other two Lamott books I've read (Bird by Bird, and Traveling Mercies), but ended up giving it only 4.  I like Lamott's irreverence and insights and her descriptions of her baby's journey was so nostalgic for me, but I felt she got pretty repetitive in her whining and her hyperbole got a bit old.  But the book did what I wanted it to do.  I easily lost myself in her writing and it helped me not think about feeling crummy.  Ah, the power of books.

BTW, Operating Instructions is on my TBR Pile Challenge, so that's one down!

Now, I'm determined to finish up a few books I started all the way back in November--namely Ghostly, Paris, Book by Book, and All the Light We Cannot See.  Stay tuned and happy reading.

Monday, January 04, 2016

TBR Pile Challenge

I haven't really found a TBR challenge that I like now that the TBR Pile Challenge that Adam at is no longer around.

I like to set out a set of books that I commit to read from my stacks, and systematically read them.  I have found some real gems that way, and am rarely disappointed.

So I am going to do my own challenge, and reward myself in December 2016 if I complete my list.

Following the TBR Pile Challenge rules from years gone are my 14 selections, of which I will commit to reading at least 12.

  1. Bring up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel - one from my 2015 list that I didn't quite get to.
  2. Paris, by Edward Rutherford - ditto (and I've already started it!).
  3. Blonde, by Joyce Carol Oates - about Marilyn Monroe, whom I admire, and it will be my first book by Oates.
  4. The Perfect Summer, by Juliet Nicolson - about the summer of 1914, part of my WWI reading project
  5. The Forgotten Garden, by Kate Morton - every review of this book makes me want to drop everything and read it.
  6. Eventide, by Kent Haruf - I want to read the next book in the series by this late, great Colorado author.
  7. The French Lieutenant's Woman, by John Fowles - this might be the book that's been on my shelf the longest.  I picked up a copy about 35 years ago, and still haven't read it!
  8. Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson - this was a Colorado reads book a few years ago, and while late to the party (what else is new?), I would like to read it.
  9. Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett - I really enjoyed her State of Wonder and Story of a Happy Marriage, and so am eager to read more by her.
  10. Operating Instructions, by Anne Lamott - I loved Lamott's Bird by Bird (best book on writing ever!) and Traveling Mercies, and it's been too many years since I last read anything by Lamott.
  11. Narrow Windows, Narrow Lives: The Industrial Resolution in Lancashire, by Sue Wilkes - I picked this up when I was deep into Elizabeth Gaskell and still want to read about the lives of my ancestors.
  12. A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini - I loved The Kite Runner, which was on my TBR Pile list in 2015, and loved it.  Also, trying to get outside my usual reading comfort zone.
  13. Time and Chance, by Sharon Kay Penman - next up chronologically in her wonderful historical fiction series, the continuing story of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine
  14. What Angels Fear, by C.S. Harris - first in a historical mystery series, featuring Sebastian St. Cyr, a nobleman who fought in the Napoleonic wars.  Comes highly recommended.
Part of the challenge is posting on the books read, so I'll commit to doing that as well.

I like that I have a good mix of contemporary fiction, historical fiction, non-fiction, long and short books.  Nice to mix it up!

Happy reading in 2016!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Spirit of Christmas Reading

I had an absolute blast reading Xmas-themed books this month for Michelle's Spirit of Christmas Reading Challenge.

Here's what I read, making it to the Christmas Tree level.

  1. Christmas Bells, by Jennifer Chiarverini - not as good as I had hoped it would be, but an okay 3-star book to kick off the season with.
  2. Christmas at Thompson Hall & Other Christmas Stories, by Anthony Trollope - a mixed bag with some winners and some so-so selections.
  3. The Father Christmas Letters, by J.R.R. Tolkien - a wonderful set of letters that Tolkien wrote to his children over the years, pre-dating the LOTR books.
  4. A Christmas Journey, by Anne Perry - a fun, interesting Regency story--pretty implausible, but that's not really a drawback in this case.  I've never read anything by Perry before, and since she has lots of Christmas novels, I can see reading one a year.
  5. Happy Christmas, by Daphne du Maurier - loved this short story.  Read it!
  6. A Christmas Story, by Jean Shepherd - so much fun!
  7. A Christmas Memory, by Truman Capote - absolute gold.  I can see rereading this annually.

Interesting how I didn't do a blog post on my favorite, but I finished it just before the Christmas rush hit and I've been unwinding ever since, with the brain on the backburner.  But trust me, A Christmas Memory was wonderful--sad, sweet, poignant, and superbly writtern.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Back to the Classics Challenge 2016

Once again, Karen of Books and Chocolate is hosting the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016, which makes me very happy because it is my favorite challenge.

Here's how it works:

The challenge will be exactly the same as last year, 12 classic books, but with slightly different categories. You do not have to read 12 books to participate in this challenge!

  • Complete six categories, and you get one entry in the drawing
  • Complete nine categories, and you get two entries in the drawing
  • Complete all twelve categories, and you get three entries in the drawing

  • And here are the categories for the 2016 Back to the Classics Challenge:

    1.  A 19th Century Classic - Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens and/or Middlemarch by George Eliot.  I'm starting off the year with a reread of Emma, by Jane Austen, so maybe I'll use that one for this category.

    2.  A 20th Century Classic - The Custom of the Country, by Edith Wharton

    3.  A classic by a woman author - Salem Chapel by Mrs. Oliphant

    4.  A classic in translation.  All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque, translated from the German by A.W. Wheen.

    5.  A classic by a non-white author. Can be African-American, Asian, Latino, Native American, etc.  I really don't know what I want to read--I'm thinking maybe another slave narrative, as I found 12 Years a Slave really powerful.

    6.  An adventure classic - can be fiction or non-fiction.  I'm wondering about the Robert Louis Stevenson adventure novels--I've been wanting to read Treasure Island for awhile now, but not sure if Karen would consider this a children's book, see #12.

    7.  A fantasy, science fiction, or dystopian classic. Dystopian could include classics like 1984.  Not my favorite genre, but maybe I'll finish Mary Stewart's Merlin series.

    8.  A classic detective novel. It must include a detective, amateur or professional. This list of books from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction is a great starting point if you're looking for ideas.  So many great options here.

    9.  A classic which includes the name of a place in the title. The Small House at Allington, by Anthony Trollope - book 5 in the Barsetshire novels.

    10. A classic which has been banned or censored. Will have to do some research on what I want to read for this one.

    11. Re-read a classic you read in school (high school or college).  The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck and/or For Whom the Bell Tolls by Earnest Hemingway.

    12 .A volume of classic short storiesRoman Fever by Edith Wharton and/or Behind a Mask by Louisa May Alcott. This must be one complete volume, at least 8 short stories. It can be an anthology of stories by different authors, or all the stories can be by a single author. Children's stories are acceptable in this category only.

    I am really looking forward to another year of wonderful classics--both new and rereads.

    Happy New Year, fellow Classics lovers!

    Saturday, December 19, 2015

    Back to the Classics Challenge 2015 Wrap Up

    One of my favorite challenges--I love reading classics, and rereading favorites.  I completed 10 of the 12 categories, but only posted on 9, giving me two entries for the prize.

    1.  A 19th Century Classic - Framley Parsonage, by Anthony Trollope - fun, interesting and definitely worth reading.  I'm planning to read the next book in the Barsetshire series in 2016. 

    2. A 20th Century Classic - The Once and Future Kingby T.H. White. An amalgamation of Arthurian legends, but really about the rise of fascism in the 20th century.

    3.  A Classic by a Woman Author - Excellent Women, by Barbara Pym.  Finally read this wonderful book.  

    4.  A Classic in Translation -  I opted for Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, since I wanted to read it for my Reading Italy project.

    5.  A Very Long Classic Novel Dombey and Son, by Charles Dickens.  Really enjoyed this Dickens novel.

    6.  A Classic Novella  - skipped this category

    7.  A Classic with a Person's Name in the Title -  David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens - another reread, but it's been over 20 years since the last reading.  Fond memories and it's still my favorite Dickens.

    8.  A Humorous or Satirical Classic -  had hoped to read some Mark Twain but didn't get to it.

    9. A Forgotten Classic - Happy Christmas by Daphne DuMaurier.  Really enjoyed this short story.

    10.  A Classic Children's Book -  Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery, another reread but very enjoyable.  For some reason I didn't care for it 40 years ago, but I really liked it this time through.

    11.  A Classic Play -  I ended up reading Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, though I didn't do a post on it.  

    12.  A Nonfiction Classic -  I finally read Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August, which was published in 1962.  Provided an excellent foundation for further reading on WWI.

    TBR Pile Challenge 2015 Wrap Up

    I finished book 12 in the TBR Pile Challenge two days ago, and am officially calling it done for this year.

    Here's what I read for the challenge, clearing these books off my TBR shelf:

    1. State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett - loved this book and now a fan of Ann Patchett, with Bel Canto now on my TBR shelf.
    2. Travel as a Political Act, by Rick Steves - interesting and inspiring.
    3. When Christ and His Saints Slept, by Sharon Kay Penman - I'm working my way through Penman's historical novels and this one about the sinking of the White Ship and the early years of Elinor of Aquitaine and Henry Plantagenet was excellent.  Planning to read the next in the series in 2016.  
    4. 12 Years a Slave, by Solomon Northup - no idea that this was a memoir and not a novel, but it was excellent.
    5. Excellent Women, by Barbara Pym - I have been wanting to read this for years, and it did not disappoint.
    6. Charles Dickens and the House of Fallen Women, by Jenny Hartley - fascinating account of Dickens' involvement in a scheme to save prostitutes and unwed mothers from a life in the streets.
    7. Ross Poldark, by Winston Graham - motivated by the new TV series, I read this and the second book in the series, Demelza, and enjoyed them both.  Third in the series will be on a list for 2016.
    8. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini - wonderful, gripping novel and again, the next book that Hosseini wrote is on my TBR shelf.
    9. The Jewel in the Crown, by Paul Scott - absolutely riveting, and next book in the series is on my TBR shelf.
    10. Plainsong, by Kent Haruf - my introduction to this late, great Colorado will see a theme emerging, as I have his next book on my TBR shelf.
    11. The Stone Diaries, by Carol Shields - interesting, 20th century-spanning novel.
    12. I Know This Much is True, by Wally Lamb - absolutely fabulous, one of the best books I read this year, and another story about the American experience.  Definitely want to read more by this author.
    What I didn't get to were Paris by Edward Rutherford and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel.  I've already started Paris, which I'm really enjoying but I prefer to read Rutherford's books slowly so this may take awhile.  

    I'm sorry that Adam at will not be hosting this favorite challenge in 2016.  I like making a list and checking off the books I read, so I am looking for a new similar challenge.

    I Know This Much is True

    I finished Wally Lamb's 897-page tome, I Know This Much is True, two days ago.  And with it completed the TBR Pile Challenge for 2015, leaving unread two of the 14 books on my list, but they're going on some list for 2016 anyway!

    I really had no expectations about I Know This Much is True going into it, only that many bloggers whose taste I trust liked it a lot.  It was a rough book at times, but always compelling, and always true and not contrived.  I found the characters interesting, their stories heartbreaking, and their resilience inspiring.  I thought Lamb did a masterful job in developing themes that spanned the various stories, with leitmotifs that connected the different parts together into a coherent whole.

    For those of you who don't know the basic outline of the story that Lamb tells in I Know This Much is True, I think this paragraph near the end, in which Dr. Patel, the psychiatrist who helps Dominick, the main character out of the dark forest of his past, describes Dominick's story...
    In ancient myths… in stories from cultures as far-flung as the Eskimos and the ancient Greeks—orphaned sons leave home in search of their fathers. In search of the self-truths that will allow them to return restored, completed. In these stories, knowledge eludes the lost child and fate throws trial and tribulation onto his path—hurls at him conundrums he must solve, hardships he must conquer. But if the orphan endures, then finally, at long last, he stumbles from the wilderness into the light, holding the precious elixir of truth. And we rejoice. At last, he has earned his parentage. And for his troubles he has gained understanding and peace. He has earned his father’s kingdom. The universe is his.
    This is the story of Dominick, and in many ways, it is also the story of America.  It is a story of race relations, of domination and survival, of the evil of social Darwinism and tribal warfare.  But it is also a story of compassion and love and friendship and family.  I really loved how Lamb allowed each of his characters to be able to tell, in some fashion, his or her story that explained why or how they came to be as they are.  Some people gave in to the dark side more easily than others, but the narrator's compassion helped make some of the really rough stuff more bearable.

    And the ending is pure joy.  If you haven't read this book and decide to, don't give up on it midway through.  This is a book where the ending rewards the reader for sticking with it.

    Definitely one of the best books I read in 2015.